Q&A: nap problems--switching from two to one, and nap strike while learning to walk

I'm of the firm opinion that there's a solution to almost every problem in the universe. But sometimes the solution is that you just have to wait it out, and try to stay sane while you do. Problems involving sleep transitions are usually in that category. The irony, of course, is that during the transition is the time you're most desperate for a solution, but is also the time when normal methods don't have much effect. Here are two classic, textbook, super-common nap problems resulting from transitions.

The first is from Christine (who I miss!):

"Here's where we are now: Max is 14 months old now.  His night sleep is drastically improved.  He goes down easily at 6:30 to 7 ish and a couple of days a week he'll wake between 12 and 1.  The other days he'll sleep right through until 5.  He gets a snack at 5 and then goes back to sleep until 7 to 7:30.

His naps are all undone now, though.  I figured he was dropping one nap but the problem doesn't seem to be the morning nap, which he still takes willingly.  He's refusing the afternoon nap most days now.  His attitude tells us that he's not ready to drop that nap because when he doesn't take it, he's a (and I say this as someone who loves him dearly) complete shitheel by late afternoon.  We still give him some time in a dark room in his crib, and he'll jabber to himself for a while.

We've tried doing things to really tire him - swimming mostly although we've also tried some play areas where he has space to roam and new toys to bang.  He definitely gets tired, but still no nap.

I'm wondering if we should try to keep him awake in the morning and then have him go down for an early afternoon nap only?  Should we just deal with what he does on any particular day and know that on some of those days we will have a child that will cry hysterically after he shoves too much tofudog in his mouth, just because he's in a crappy mood?  When this started I'd do a long afternoon walk and he'd often sleep in the stroller, but it's 100+ degrees here now and heatstroke doesn't count as napping."

My suggestions for naptime problems (for kids who used to nap but are going through transitions) are always the following: tire them out by running them ragged in the morning to try to get them to sleep, and do whatever you need to to lull them to sleep (meaning strolling them until they fall asleep or driving them around until they fall asleep, then park somewhere and sit and read a book or knit or do Sudoku or catch up on email on your Blackberry while the kid sleeps). But Christine has done all that, and it's not working.

The transition from one nap to two seems to be a lot like teething, in that some kids just wake up one day and there it is, while others agonize over it for weeks. My first transitioned to one nap over the course of 2-3 days (don't hate me--he went to one nap at 11 months and gave up napping completely at 2 1/2 years). My second one has never napped well, and he's having a heck of a time with the switch from two naps to one. So I'm living the same problem right now.

I think Christine's got two options here. The first is just to try to wait it out until Max is ready for the full switch to only one nap. That's going to suck. The other is to jimmy with his morning nap and try pushing it later by 15 or 30-minute increments every day to see what happens. It might be possible to find a sweet spot that lets Max sleep for longer than usual, later than the usual morning nap, that can carry him through to bedtime. And that will probably end up being his new naptime, since a kid taking only one nap almost always does so in the early afternoon.

Let me make this clear: I don't think there's any guarantee that pushing the nap back is going to make things easier in the short term, because Max might just be cranky while his body's adjusting anyway. But I do think that gradually pushing his morning nap later and later will at least make Christine and her husband feel like they're doing something about the problem. And if it makes the nap transition go faster, that's even better.

The next problem is also a classic, written in by Kelly:

"My baby has always been well trained with naptimes and bedtime. Every so often he would fuss or play, but usually never more than 20-30 minutes. Either way, it's never really interfered with his schedule.

As of this week, he has learned to stand in his crib...so now whenever I put him down he immediately pulls himself up to standing position and talks to his toys. This probably sounds like a nice alternative to crying, but the problem is that he's playing for 45-1hr, and then we he gets bored, he's moving into hysterical crying mode.

I've tried doing a couple of things:

First I tried going in there every so often to gently lift him and lie him right down, and said "please close your eyes." However, this really was not working, and eventually, I think he thought it was funny.

So, the next thing I did was completely ignore him and just patiently wait for him to get bored, and want to sleep. However, as I mentioned above, instead of getting bored, and lying himself down to sleep...he is sooooo overtired at this point, that he's crying hysterically.

Now, I am all about "cold turkey" tactics...but this seems to require more. I have followed a lot of different books which have helped me during his growth, but none of the books seem to address this.

The problem that is occuring now, is without a regular nap schedule, he is so tired by early evening, so we put him down at 6:30/6:45pm, and he is now waking up at 4:30/5:00am. I am finding it hard to get out of this pattern.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be incredibly welcomed. This is very taxing on mothers for sure."

"Taxing" is not really the word I'd use. How about "makes you want to run away with the letter carrier." Or "cue the opening guitar riff from 'Mother's Little Helper'."

But enough about me.

He can't sleep because his body's working on this whole standing deal. Even if his mind wants to sleep, his body's not letting him. The only things I can say to do are the suggstions I always give--tire him out, run him around, stroll or drive him for naps. I wouldn't worry about getting into the habit of strolling (although it's not a bad habit to get into for the summertime anyway--he naps while you're sitting outside drinking an iced coffee) since he'll go back to napping once his body's over this hump.

If none of that is working, I'll suggest some homeopathic remedies* to see if they help his body relax. I've had some success with Chamomilla in getting a tense child to relax enough to sleep. If he seems to need more than that, I'd try the Hyland's formula Calms Forte For Kids, which has a mix of different remedies all working together. (Reading the official description of Calms Forte, it also claims it helps with other sleep-depriving problems, like night terrors, growing pains, and sleeplessness from travel. I'm going to get some for our next trip.) Let me know if that works for your son.

Any "training" techniques you usually do are going to have no effect on his naps or sleep, since the cause of the sleeplessness is physical development. So try tiring him out, strolling or driving him to sleep, and using Calms Forte. If none of those help, you're just going to have to wait until he's through this spurt, and then he'll go back to napping as if it never happened. I hope it's only a few days, and not a few weeks! (And then the same thing will probably happen for a few weeks when he's learning to walk.)

* For anyone not familiar with homeopathy, the treatments are extremely minute amounts of a remedy in a sugar pill that dissolves ion the baby's mouth or that you can dissolve in water and give with an eye dropper. For the vast majority of homeopathic remedies there are no side effects for babies or nursing moms. If you don't believe in homeopathy it doesn't bother me in the least, but you could still try it just on the off chance that it'll work. No side effects, relatively cheap (around US$5), what do you have to lose? In general, Hyland's treatments are in a lactose base, while Humphrey's and Boiron are in a sugar base.

(Are you wondering why I didn't recommend Benadryl? Not that I would ever, ever recommend using Benadryl to get your child to sleep. But I hear that others do, so it's worth discussing. From what I hear, Benadryl is useful to get your child to sleep in situations in which you really need the child to sleep, like long airplane trips. However, it's that drugged kind of sleep, not real, refreshing sleep. So it doesn't help in a situation when the child needs to sleep, like the naptime dilemmas above. If you give a kid Benadryl to sleep in a situation like Kelly's it won't achieve the real goal, which is to get him to sleep for a nap but also to sleep well at night. There's a drugged rebound from the Benadryl that you'd be willing to deal with if you absolutely needed the child to sleep at one specific time, but that wouldn't make sense if you were trying to get back into a good sleep cycle. Does that make sense? Again, I am not advocating drugging your child with Benadryl. But if you decided of your own accord to do so, do a trial run first, because it makes some kids more hopped up instead of getting them to sleep.)